Last night I spoke to Jonathan Langfield just after he completed his last three days of critiques before his graduation from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He was already wistful and said while they were strenuous, messy and difficult -he’d miss them.
When an assistant at Jag Modern sent me a slew of images of his work I was immediately interested. The work is there- he’s hanging in with Andrew Mazorol/Kerr and Dana Schutz making cute creepily funny paintings. Large paintings that over the last few years have gotten flatter with less busywork and more frenetic happenings. He’s into the material and the process. The evidence is in the photographs of his studio that he’s posted on facebook.
Facebook is rich with research material. I could see his studio but even more importantly I learned that his past employer was Home Depot. I read his quirky sense of humor through his grotesque post about the man in California who intentionally sawed off his arms -at a Home Depot. Is this the duality that exists between his list of influences ranging between South Park, Biggie Smalls to Neo Rauch and Bruegels? Is it the corporatization/ commoditization of art and even more specifically painting?
And then there’s this, why I was even more interested- he’s pretty much spent his adult life in school getting his BFA from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in 2010, his Post Baccalaureate from UMASS Dartmouth in 2011, and is scheduled to receive his MFA in May 2013 after two years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He’s serious. After spending two years scumbling up his current studio at Pennsylvania, he’s booked a 5,000 square foot space with professors and peers. He’s thinking hard about what it means to be in the real world, worried about making ends meet, working a job and then having to do research until his “eyes bleed out of [his] head.”
He’s in the thick of it. Trying to figure out the work and get on with his life. And like his mass of posts on facebook, it’s all mixed up together. It’s his work and social life, television and music, family and friends, tradition and irreverence poking at each other. Check out the trajectory, difference and change in his two bodies of work that Jag Modern has posted on the website. Just underneath his most recent paintings with vomit, donuts and penises, rest a series from 2009 of Giacometti-like portraits. Langfield credited the new strength in the work to the “brilliant faculty” including Kevin Richards whose readings and ideas pushed him and the Resident Critic in the Graduate/Post-Bac Program, Kate Moran, who hated his work, critiqued his work and pushed him even further and farther. We all need a nemesis don’t we?
Kudos to those artists who make it and then keep working past the sentimentality the public has with their recognizable style. To get to the next batch of great work, to keep moving most artists have to go out and muddle in it. Take big risks. Sometimes the floppy failures are even more important than the shining “best of show” -it’s the important stuff that moves an artist’s work forward. So, it’s interesting to me to see this person fresh out of school where failure is expected and even nurtured. Many educators say it’s the place to make messes and where many artists see the most growth as work is made in full force with life dreamily at bay. (That’s a funny idea too- in reality only enjoyed by few lucky ducks.) It’s also why educators have argued vociferously to keep gallerists out of education -listing market influences as an impediment to growth. But, here is someone who had his first exhibition at Jag Modern in 2012 in the midst of his MFA. He’s walked the line. I’ll be interested to see where Langfield takes the work next.
Check out his work at the Cutlog Art Fair in New York City May 10-13th, 2013 and then moves to Paris Oct. 24-27. Cutlog is being held at the Dutch Neo-Gothic Clemente Soto Velez Center at 107 Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Details of the fair can be found at www.cutlog.org.
View a catalog of the work here.